Covid-19 has brought in a whole new world for teachers as many are now trying to teach virtually with little to no training before diving right in! This can be stressful, but we can overcome this by equipping ourselves with the right tools and confidence to use them effectively. Zoom and Google Meet are now common terms within the education world, and many are trying to learn the ins and outs of the programs so they can teach effectively with a new platform. Luckily, YouTube is full of helpful videos that describe the tech aspects of the programs. However, what about the teaching aspect? There are some items that you can do ahead of time to make your Zoom or Google Meet sessions interactive and successful.
#1 Know the Tech
Before your students sign into the Zoom room, know how to use the program. Watch instructional videos and Zoom or Meet with fellow staff members, families, or friends. If you have time, do a shortened lesson with someone to make sure you know all the functions like breakout rooms, how to use a document camera, or making sure the student can properly hear you and any other item you are playing. It is never good if there is a lot of “dead air time” as you try to figure out how to turn the document camera on for the first time, or you play a sound clip and the students alert you that they cannot hear it. Also note, if you plan to use the interactive whiteboard within Zoom, students on Chromebooks will not be able to use that function.
Finally, I suggest to not record your sessions to post unless you do a webinar setting and you are the only one in the recording and you are the only voice. There are specific rules about posting any image of students who are in the foster care system and of course, your recording could have personal identifiable information including the student's voice. If you need to post something for students who could not attend, simply make a quick recording with Screencastify or WeVideo or any other program of just yourself running through the important information.
#2 Have a Set of Expectations Made and Sent Out Ahead of Time
Each school and district are different. Your school might have a policy that applies to all or it might be up to you to create your own expectations. I cannot tell you what to have or not have, but I do have some items for you to think about.
Do they need to have their cameras on if they are able to?
I say if able because not everyone can turn on their camera. The students who sign on with a hotspot will have constant glitches and other issues (I know this from personal experience). So, think of other ways that you can verify that they are involved if you need to. I will sometimes ask questions for students to write the answer in the chat section and have not run into problems with that yet (that is a big YET! One never knows what tech will do). Other students may have anxiety about turning on their screen and some parents do not want it. There are also a long list of other reasons to consider. I simply encourage them to have it on if they can.
What do the students do if they get logged out?
Last year my city decided to replace the telephone poles on my street and my Internet kept going on and off throughout the day for a week. I was in the middle of talking at a staff meeting when suddenly I was gone for 15 minutes. We all know that the Internet can go out from time to time, so what should they do if they cannot immediately sign back in?
When should the students be on mute and when should they be open to talk?
Can they have fun backgrounds and what is allowed?
My students figured this out quickly and all had appropriate and fun backgrounds, so I was fine with it. I just put out a reminder to all to keep them classroom appropriate.
What name can they use to log in? I allow students to change their name to a known nickname (like William to Will) and to the name they use in school. I just have to know who they are. I am not going to allow some random unknown name into my room like “Pajama Student.”
Can they use chat?
Do they physically raise their hand, or do they use the icon to do it? (Think if their video is on)
These are some basic items to think about when making your list. Remember there can always be Internet issues and keep in mind cultural aspects as well.
#3 Welcoming Students into the Room
When 3 students are in the waiting room, I usually let them in. I then have something going on until the others join. To me, this is the rapport building, just like I would do with short conversations when they enter my room between classes. Some days I can play music and have a dance party. Other days I have questions I will ask them as they enter. I always welcome them by name when they come in. For one, they like to feel acknowledged, but it is also a good “Internet is working” check. If they cannot respond, then we have 3 minutes to try to fix the problem.
#4 Be Ready to Help them Navigate the Program
I have sent out “how to” videos a head of time so students know how to get their mic working and make sure they know the basic functions. For younger students having a paper with the icons ready helps for me to point to the mute button so they know what they should press as I teach them the functions.
I also discuss the Zoom routine for the day. It reminds me of putting an objective on the board; however, this is just a quick 2 minutes of what we will do in case they need to be prepared to switch to Nearpod or a Kahoot or even go into a breakout room. I do not like them, or their parents, to be surprised with a sudden switch and they do not know what is going on or how to do it.
#5 Keep them Engaged
As I am talking or going through an activity, I like to say the names of the students from time to time to let them know I am there for them! I also will ask questions to the group or individuals (I do have students who are very uncomfortable with answering questions email me and I will help them walk through that). I also try to think of the goal of my lesson and what can I do to help keep them involved like they are in class with breakout rooms, the interactive white board, and other applications that I can use with Zoom or Google Meet. Just remember to take baby steps with tech and do not do too many new things the first week. Let them get use to all the functions and then add more.